The big clubs in Spain have long defended the seeded, two-legged format in the Copa del Rey which means that even if they do lose to a second-level team in the first game, they can be sure to turn the tie around on their own pitch in the return match. This may appear to serve them well as after last night’s return game not one second division team had got through to the next round. However, the big clubs were not exactly basking in glory after last night’s performances.
Worst affected were Football Club Barcelona who were hoping to restore some pride after losing their last game to arch rivals Real Madrid. Despite getting through their tie with Alcoyano 5-2 on aggregate, the Blaugrana suffered the indignity of only managing a 2-2 draw in front of their own fans against the minnows from the second division B. The Catalan press had a field day today and the calls for Frank Rijkaard’s head are getting louder and louder.
Real Madrid have a bit more credit with the Bernabeu faithful, but they were very close to being taken to extra time by Alicante who also play in the second division B. They were saved by a great shot from Guti in the 92nd minute which gave them a 2-1 win on the night (3-2 agg). Some might think that the Copa del Rey serves to give the out-of-favour players some match practice, but Bernd Schuster decided to leave summer signings Royston Drenthe and Javier Saviola on the bench, though Saviola did come on for half an hour in the second half.
To be fair, of the 22 players who started in the Barça-Madrid Clasico before Christmas only Puyol and Deco started for Barça last night and only Heinze and Sergio Ramos played for Madrid. Arjen Robben and Guti scored Madrid’s goals while Santi Ezquerro proved he can still play football, scoring twice for Barça.
Other Grandes suffering to get through were Sevilla, who scored twice in the last two minutes to beat Denia 4-3 (5-4 agg), and Atletico Madrid who could only draw 1-1 at home to Granada 74 but went through thanks to a 1-2 victory in the first leg.
The Copa seriously needs to be revamped in these early stages and the big teams should think hard about what is really best for them. Granted they all got through in the end, but playing over two legs means there is the added risk of players getting injured in these games (Barça’s defender Lilian Thuram limped off at half time), plus they can hardly argue that they gain revenue when their stadiums are more than half empty, there were only 35,000 at the Bernabeu, while only 30,000 bothered to turn up to see Barça despite tickets being available for as little as â‚¬10 for adults and â‚¬3 for kids. The public are bored by these games and most would love to see the format of a single game as used in England and Scotland. If the big clubs really believe that the current format is defending their interests, they should meditate on the fact that Barça haven’t won the Copa since 1998 while Madrid have to go back to 1993 for their last win.
Nic Aldam also writes on the FC Barcelona blog.